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Lord Give Me Patience and Make It Snappy – Rev. Susan Sparks

Hi Y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger!

First — a word of concern for our brothers and sisters in the path of Hurricane Florence. Let us pray for their safety and wellbeing.

Now — let me share a message . . .

Our modern society can best be described in three words: fast, immediate, and instant! We speed walk, speed dial, and speed date. We disdain anything that takes extra time, including the US mail, which we affectionately call “snail mail” (an ironic nickname, given that 150 years ago, mail delivered by horseback was called “the pony express”).

We even speed pray. Recently, while waiting in an inordinately long line at the DMV, I mumbled through gritted teeth, “Lord, give me patience.” Almost without thinking, I then added, “And make it snappy!”

It’s hard to have patience in a sound bite world. That said, it is a virtue worth cultivating. We see this lesson over and over in scripture.

Consider Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”In short, life’s a marathon, so pace yourself.

Patience may be one of the best things we can do for our stamina and our health. Exhibit A: my Dad, Herb. A twentieth-century Buddha with a North Carolina accent, Herb was never in a hurry. Nothing ruffled him, and nothing phased him. His heart rate stayed the same through thick and thin (roughly seven beats per minute). Even though he lived on a diet of fried chicken, cream gravy, Frito scoops, and pecan pie, Herb made it to the ripe old age of 89. Why? Because he was patient. It’like the old saying goes, “It’s better to be patient than to become one.”

Patience also brings perspective. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Similar advice came from a partner in my old law firm. He used to say, “always wait twenty-four hours before firing off an angry response.” That suggestion has saved me from much unnecessary angst.

How many times have you fired off an email or a text in a knee-jerk reaction that you regretted, or spewed out words that you wish you could take back? With the buffer of time, you might have been able to see the issue or the person differently. In the end, what’s the downside of waiting to respond? If it’s that big of an issue, it’ll be there tomorrow.

The opportunity for growth is perhaps the most important gift we receive from practicing patience. The Bible says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters . . . See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains” (James 5:7)Its too bad that we don’t treat others like farmers treat their crops, enabling their growth through patient tending.

Too often we get impatient with people—finishing their sentences, tuning out if they take too long to tell a story, or taking over their jobs if they don’t do the work quickly enough or in the way that we want.

The author Paulo Coelho tells the story of a man watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. The man decides to help the butterfly by cutting open the cocoon to free it. What he fails to realize is that the effort required to break free from the cocoon is nature’s way of strengthening the butterfly’s wings. By trying to accelerate the process, the man destroys the butterfly’s ability to fly.

Similarly, we can clip people’s wings through our own impatience. It takes time for things and people to strengthen and grow into their potential. We must have patienceto allow them that room.

This week, when you feel your patience waning, ask yourself: is this worth my health? In twenty-four hours, will my perspective change? Is this something or someone that needs extra time to develop fully?

Patience is a virtue worth cultivating. Try it. Just breathe. Take a beat before you respond. Be gentle with those you love. And if all else fails, then use this simple prayer to get you started: “Lord give me patience . . . and make it snappy!”

(This piece was featured as a nationally syndicated column for GateHouse Media. To read this and other columns,click here!)

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Dear Judge Kavanaugh: Jennifer Hawks – BaptistsNewsGlobal.com

SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

As a fellow attorney who – like you – takes my faith seriously and is actively engaged in my congregation, I am sure we have much in common. However, we seem to disagree about the robust way that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, alongside the Free Exercise Clause, has protected religious liberty in our country and permitted religious dissenting groups – including Baptists and Catholics – to thrive.

The institutional separation of religion and government is a foundational aspect of our democracy, one deeply rooted in our shared history and experience.

In reviewing your record, I was disappointed to learn that you think the metaphor of a wall of separation is “wrong as a matter of law and history.” Admittedly, all metaphors are imperfect; yet, good metaphors are one of the best ways to conceptualize an abstract idea. As a religious liberty advocate, constitutional attorney and ordained Baptist minister, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor you’ve disparaged.

The wall metaphor was first articulated by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. He said that a wall was needed to protect the “garden of the Church” from the “wilderness of the world.” Church and state governed two different realms, and neither would ever truly succeed if distracted by the ultimate concerns of the other. President Thomas Jefferson famously picked up the metaphor and used it to reassure Baptists in Connecticut that the new constitutional government would indeed protect their religious freedom.

“For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.”

Separating the institutions of religion and government ensures that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship do not rise or fall based on compliance with state-sanctioned religion. The institutional wall provided space for our dissenting religious ancestors to seek converts and pass their religious teachings down to current generations. It is up to the people, not the government, to teach our respective faith traditions to future generations. For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.

This is why the concept of a wall of separation worked for Roger Williams and President Jefferson – and still works today. The wall does not keep people of faith from the public square but separates institutional control. There is debate about the application of “the wall,” but it is certainly not “bad history,” nor is it useless in modern debates.

“It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray.”

Judge Kavanaugh, we see this in our public schools. I imagine that, like myself and millions of other Americans, you place a high value on the power of prayer and see it as a conversation with God. I know that you and I agree that public school students have the right to individually and collectively pray on school grounds. What I am unsure of is whether you also agree that students have the right to choose not to pray. It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray. Even between us Christians, there is a vast difference between typical Catholic prayers and typical Baptist prayers, let alone the prayers of non-Christian faiths. A government institution should never be allowed to force any of us, much less children in state-run schools, into religious observance.

Colonial Baptists, Catholics and other dissenters endured imprisonment, whippings, fines and other forms of state-sanctioned religious persecution so that each American could voluntarily choose to be a person of faith or not. As members of the American legal community who value our respective faith traditions, we must remember and continue to honor those sacrifices by taking seriously – and enforcing robustly – both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

America has never been united by a single religion, but in the Constitution we secured unity in a commitment to religious freedom for all people. Separation of church and state is good for both.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jennifer Hawks
Associate General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Libertyge Kavanaugh, the wall of separation is worth defending
OPINIONJENNIFER HAWKS | SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

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Dear Judge Kavanaugh:

As a fellow attorney who – like you – takes my faith seriously and is actively engaged in my congregation, I am sure we have much in common. However, we seem to disagree about the robust way that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, alongside the Free Exercise Clause, has protected religious liberty in our country and permitted religious dissenting groups – including Baptists and Catholics – to thrive.

The institutional separation of religion and government is a foundational aspect of our democracy, one deeply rooted in our shared history and experience.

In reviewing your record, I was disappointed to learn that you think the metaphor of a wall of separation is “wrong as a matter of law and history.” Admittedly, all metaphors are imperfect; yet, good metaphors are one of the best ways to conceptualize an abstract idea. As a religious liberty advocate, constitutional attorney and ordained Baptist minister, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor you’ve disparaged.

The wall metaphor was first articulated by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. He said that a wall was needed to protect the “garden of the Church” from the “wilderness of the world.” Church and state governed two different realms, and neither would ever truly succeed if distracted by the ultimate concerns of the other. President Thomas Jefferson famously picked up the metaphor and used it to reassure Baptists in Connecticut that the new constitutional government would indeed protect their religious freedom.

“For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.”

Separating the institutions of religion and government ensures that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship do not rise or fall based on compliance with state-sanctioned religion. The institutional wall provided space for our dissenting religious ancestors to seek converts and pass their religious teachings down to current generations. It is up to the people, not the government, to teach our respective faith traditions to future generations. For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.

This is why the concept of a wall of separation worked for Roger Williams and President Jefferson – and still works today. The wall does not keep people of faith from the public square but separates institutional control. There is debate about the application of “the wall,” but it is certainly not “bad history,” nor is it useless in modern debates.

“It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray.”

Judge Kavanaugh, we see this in our public schools. I imagine that, like myself and millions of other Americans, you place a high value on the power of prayer and see it as a conversation with God. I know that you and I agree that public school students have the right to individually and collectively pray on school grounds. What I am unsure of is whether you also agree that students have the right to choose not to pray. It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray. Even between us Christians, there is a vast difference between typical Catholic prayers and typical Baptist prayers, let alone the prayers of non-Christian faiths. A government institution should never be allowed to force any of us, much less children in state-run schools, into religious observance.

Colonial Baptists, Catholics and other dissenters endured imprisonment, whippings, fines and other forms of state-sanctioned religious persecution so that each American could voluntarily choose to be a person of faith or not. As members of the American legal community who value our respective faith traditions, we must remember and continue to honor those sacrifices by taking seriously – and enforcing robustly – both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

America has never been united by a single religion, but in the Constitution we secured unity in a commitment to religious freedom for all people. Separation of church and state is good for both.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jennifer Hawks
Associate General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

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Churches, wake up and smell the coffee: communion with a cup of joe?

BRETT YOUNGER  |  AUGUST 28 Baptistnewsglobal.com

“Should we say something to her?”

“It’s not her fault. She didn’t grow up in church.”

The object of concern brought a cup of coffee into the sanctuary and set it down on the pew as if it was acceptable behavior. The troubled church members tried to let her know telepathically that coffee is not allowed in the sanctuary. How could she miss the invisible line beyond which a cup of joe is not permitted?

But how could the church not see that in a world that is asleep, coffee is no doze?

Coffee appears only two times in The Message Bible: “Never again will friends drop in for coffee” (Job 7:10) and “Wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee” (Luke 17:8).  Imagine how many times “coffee” would be in the concordance if Jesus had thought to change water into cappuccinos at the wedding in Cana.

“Imagine how many times ‘coffee’ would be in the concordance if Jesus had thought to change water into cappuccinos at the wedding in Cana.” 

Opening the church to coffee drinkers has been a long, difficult struggle. Coffee dates back to the 15th century and the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. One legend is that the mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was traveling in Ethiopia. He saw birds acting unusually lively, and upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality. Coffee was soon part of religious practice in the Islamic world. The Sufis used the beverage to keep themselves alert during nighttime devotions and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.

Because Muslims loved coffee, several Christian groups, including The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, made a big brouhaha and banned coffee. Mormons still avoid this potion made with magic beans.

Churches need to wake up and smell the coffee. When I ask Siri to “find coffee” she lists four places within 800 feet of my house. Our neighborhood has more coffee shops than churches.

Coffee is the most important meal of the day for many. In the midst of the daily grind, coffee is invigorating. A yawn is a silent scream for coffee. Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation. Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven and tastes like hopes and dreams.

When we are holding a cup of coffee, the warmth radiates through our hands. The aroma drifts through the air. The cream goes into black coffee and magically changes it into good-to-the-last-drop caramel. This sensual experience helps our sleepy selves greet the day with gratitude. We reflect on what we now have the energy to achieve.

“We should take our coffee seriously and joyfully. We should fill our churches with sugar and cream, sweetness and light.”

Worship would be less lively without a cup of joy. We can tell a lot about a church from how they caffeinate worshippers. My parents’ Baptist church is Folgers. Unitarians drink fair trade coffee. Mennonites have Keurig committees that wash and recycle those little cups. Presbyterians fill their fellowship halls for the sacrament of coffee hour. Catholics serve decaf at midnight mass. Sharing coffee is a way of saying, “We love you a latte.”

Church should be a place for common ground and a home to hang your mug. “Bible study” is less enticing than “Coffee and Bible study.” Nominating committees should choose a church barista.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” is an offer of friendship. Coffee turns a counseling session into a conversation between friends. Saying “yes” to coffee at the end of a meal is a promise to hang around.

Here is a question that needs to percolate: would coffee be a better symbol for communion? Grape juice is dull. Wine puts you to sleep. Coffee refreshes, revives and stimulates. The Lord’s Table could be a coffee table. If we drank coffee at communion, we could get rid of those tiny shot glasses. Picture the communion cup holders on the backs of pews becoming real cup holders. Coffee would be a fine symbol for the enlivening of the Spirit that happens at the table.

We should take our coffee seriously and joyfully. We should fill our churches with sugar and cream, sweetness and light.

 

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T – Rev. Susan Sparks

(This piece was featured as a sermon at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church as well as a nationally syndicated column.)

Thanks to a back injury last week, I spent an inordinate amount of time stretched out on my living room floor. If you’ve ever hurt your back, you know how this goes. At first, it’s not so bad. You have quiet time to read and catch up on your work. Then you move to what I like to call the trashy stage, when you’ve finished your work, and you start binging on things like “The View,” “Dr. Phil” and tacky Hollywood magazines. (By the way, did you hear that Brad and Jen are back together?)

Eventually, the time comes when even Hollywood gossip is not enough. That’s when it gets ugly, because then you have nothing to do but lie there surveying the nooks and crannies of your house that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.

My line of sight was directly under my couch. Much to my embarrassment, I saw, hiding in the shadows, a collection of coins and pens, one sock, several dust balls the size of a ferret, an old Verizon bill, and a small yellow cube, which turned out to be a wayward cheese appetizer from a cocktail party we gave back in December.

I had no idea all that mess was under there. I guess I’d never looked.

In retrospect, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to look at your house — even your life — with a view from the floor. It may not reveal the carefully crafted image that you prefer or want others to see, but it can show you the raw truth of how life really is.

If you took an honest look at your life with a view from the floor, what would you see? What things have you brushed aside or hidden away?

Maybe it is as simple as the stuff in your inbox that you keep shifting to the bottom because you don’t want to deal with it. Or perhaps it is a deeper issue such as conflicts in a relationship you don’t want to face, a financial problem you are trying to hide, or an addiction, illness or other aspects of yourself from which you’re running.

Our tendency to brush aside or hide away things holds true on a larger scale too. Every day in our “global house,” we sweep issues under the couch because no one wants to face the view from the floor. Consider the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (that no one wants to acknowledge), global warming (that no one wants to claim) or the deep-seated racism and discrimination in our country (that no one wants to admit, let alone take responsibility for).

There is a sad irony in of all this because like a wayward cheese appetizer, if left hidden, these things can easily degenerate and get messy. These are the things that need light, not shadows. These are the things that need to be brought out in the open, not swept under the couch. These are the things that need a housekeeper who cares.

Fortunately, we have one: God. The Psalmist tell us that God knows all about what lurks under our emotional couches: “O Lord you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely” (Psalms 139).

God sees with piercing clarity those troubled areas in our hearts, in our families, and in our world and still loves us unconditionally: “Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” (Psalms 139). If God is willing to look upon these hidden places with love, acceptance, even forgiveness, why shouldn’t we?

Last week, we lost Aretha Franklin, one of the world’s great creative artists. Of all her songs, my favorite was “Respect.” Aretha was right on so many levels — life really does come down to those seven letters: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We should respect our gift of life enough to claim who we are, deep down, in our hidden nooks and crannies. We should respect the lives of others enough to acknowledge their pain and suffering. We should respect our world enough to shine a light on injustice so that all can see.

What things in your life are hidden away that need to be seen?
What painful issues have been ignored that need to be discussed?
What parts of yourself do you need to “R-E-S-P-E-C-T?” enough to bring out into the light and heal?

Whatever it is, it’s OK. God already knows about it. And miraculously, we’re still unconditionally loved.

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